[Readings] | Stubble Trouble | Harper's Magazine

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Stubble Trouble


From a court memo filed by attorneys for Samuel Mullet Sr., an Amish bishop from Bergholz, Ohio. Mullet was sentenced in February to fifteen years in prison for having coordinated a series of attacks in which members of his congregation forcibly cut the hair and beards of rival congregants who had rejected Mullet’s practices and accused him of leading a cult. Prosecutors initially sought a life term for Mullet on a federal kidnapping charge under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Defendant Samuel Mullet, a sixty-seven-year-old Amish bishop with no criminal history, is before this Court for sentencing regarding a series of beard- and hair-cutting incidents within the Ohio Amish community. Mullet did not participate, but was convicted for knowing beforehand and failing to stop the incidents from occurring. The guideline range suggested is literally off the chart, at Level 48, recommending a life sentence — the same now being served by Jared Lee Loughner, Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

The offenses covered by the federal kidnapping guideline include: assaulting foreign officials; kidnapping in Indian country; hostage taking; and presidential assassination. The elements of generic kidnapping in this case are far less serious. The defendants briefly restrained the victims to cut their beard and/or head hair. At most, the conduct involved minor assault. The scissors used were not “dangerous weapons.” The victims were never threatened. The scissors were used solely for their intended purpose of cutting hair, and not as a stabbing or lethal weapon. The beard and hair cutting was a symbolic gesture. Two inadvertent nicks, to Marty Miller and Raymond Hershberger, are not the type of “significant injury” required under the definition of bodily injury. Mullet acknowledges the victims suffered emotional and psychological difficulty, yet it is important to maintain perspective. The incidents left no permanent disfigurement. The intent was solely to remove beard and head hair.